Aviano pays tribute to airman who died while in coronavirus quarantine

Maj. Christopher Clark, 31st Aviation Maintenance Squadron commander, salutes during the presentation of the Air Force Commendation Medal, which was posthumously awarded to Tech. Sgt. Michael W. Morris at Aviano Air Base, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.


By NORMAN LLAMAS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 19, 2021

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AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — An airman who died last month while in coronavirus quarantine was remembered Friday for his fatherly sense of humor, his loyalty, his off-duty “shenanigans” and on-duty mentorship to others.

The base ceremony was a chance for colleagues of Tech. Sgt. Michael W. Morris to celebrate his life and service after his death more than a month ago.

The father of three of children was known among fellow members of the 56th Helicopter Maintenance Unit for his “dad jokes,” which often seemed to lack punchlines and led to a combination of groans and laughter after each telling, Staff Sgt. Brandon Bainum said.

“He would always follow it up with saying that the moral of the joke is that sometimes you have your good days and sometimes you have your bad days,” Bainum said. “Then he would add that you cannot have your good days without your bad days.”

Morris died Jan. 12 while alone, waiting for an ambulance. He’d tested positive for the coronavirus about a week earlier, but has not been counted among the Defense Department’s COVID-19 deaths. Base spokeswoman Maj. Sarah Babcock confirmed via email Friday that his autopsy results have so far been inconclusive.

Over 100 people attended Aviano’s socially distanced memorial, where the 56th HMU renamed its gym in his honor and added his name to the “Green Feet Wall” of its parent unit, the 56th Rescue Squadron. The ceremony comes about two weeks after Morris was laid to rest back home in Minnesota.

Morris, a 14-year veteran of the service, was also posthumously awarded his fifth Air Force Commendation Medal.

Senior Airman James Perino served with Morris at RAF Lakenheath in England, but said it was on a temporary assignment together to Aviano that he first knew they’d be close friends. After the 56th HMU moved to Aviano permanently, they spent almost every day together, he said, describing Morris as “always the life of the party.”

“We were always getting into some sort of shenanigans every weekend,” Perino said.

Airman 1st Class James Eyler didn’t know Morris as well as some of the others who spoke, he said, but will always remember the impact his mentorship had on his life.

“One of the biggest things that I’ll remember him for is him helping me get through my lack of self-confidence,” Eyler said. “He gave me something that I lacked for most of my life and I can’t ever thank him enough.”

Twitter: @normanllamas

A photo from a slide show played during the remembrance ceremony held for fallen Tech. Sgt. Michael W. Morris, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Morris died Jan. 12 alone at his home Cordenons, about a week after testing positive for the coronavirus.